Spending time together arguing and finding consensus
How many Italian-Americans does it take to change a light bulb?
I wish I could give you an answer but let’s be honest, getting Italian-Americans to all agree is almost impossible. Everyone has their own opinion and everyone is right.
My answer to the question is five.
1. Someone to pray that it goes right.
2. Someone to argue that you are doing it wrong.
3. Someone to do the work.
4. Someone to claim to have done the work.
5. Someone to video the whole escapade so that the family can argue about it later.
My older brother would add a sixth person, and he would say that the sixth person would fix the job number three did.
My aunt would say seven and add a woman to tell the rest how wrong they were.
Solo activities in the Italian-American household are rare. Why do something by yourself, when your whole family can do it with you and argue the whole time?
Growing up this applied to many household tasks, too. While I vacuumed the house, others were cleaning the bathrooms, mopping the kitchen floor, dusting and mowing the lawn outside.
If my dad had to drop off something to a customer on the weekend, we all piled in the car for the ride.
If a friend came by, we all came to the kitchen or living room to spend time with the guest.
My mother would go grocery shopping by herself. I think it was so she could escape the chaos of the house. But be sure, we were all there to help unpack her bags and to argue about how to fit everything in the fridge.
Side note: Somehow we were the only Italian-American family who had one refrigerator. I know. Shocking. My parents won a big freezer when I was in high school. So that was in use for a few years until we all graduated. But we never had a second fridge in the garage.
There was something comforting about doing everything together. No one was left out. If you had friends over, they became part of the group.
If my mom needed me to set the table for dinner, my friends would help too.
When we would go over a relative’s home to admire and help install a new television (it was a thing in the 1980s) or to help move furniture around to make room for the new sofa, every one had an opinion as to where the sofa should go, what the best angle for the TV was, etc.
Each opinion was debated before a consensus was found. And if you went against the consensus, you would be talked about for weeks.
Stuff like, “Can you believe she hung that painting in the foyer?” or “The sofa would have looked so much better against the other wall.”
And on occasion, we would go back and the furniture would be rearranged or the painting moved to a different room.
Anyone in our extended family would have been excellent on a debate team. They could argue both sides of an issue, help find consensus then change their mind and be in opposition.
This probably explains why I like solitude on occasion and have sought no opinions other than my husband for furniture placement.
Do you have a story about growing up Italian, either in Hammonton or anywhere else? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org